Unlike the first two games of the series, the Thunder remained within striking distance throughout, but couldn’t find an answer for LeBron James.
Twenty three of Miami’s 28 made field goals came in the paint as it held on for a 91-85 victory Sunday night.
James scored 29 points on 11-of-23 shooting from the field, and he converted eight of his shots in the paint.
Aside from leading the team in scoring, James set the tone for Miami throughout the game, crashing the glass early, securing three of his five offensive rebounds in the first quarter and logging 14 rebounds, his third highest total of the post season.
The shots weren’t falling for the Heat, as it shot 37.8 percent from the field, but its pressure defense and dominant rebounding performance secured the vital victory.
The winner of Game 3 in a tied series has won 11 of 12 championships since the format was changed to 2-3-2 in 1985.
Miami has an opportunity to clinch the title at home and is looking to become just the third team in league history to win each of its three home contests, joining the 2004 Pistons and 2006 Heat.
Dwyane Wade, the key player six years ago as Miami defeated the Mavericks for its only championship in franchise history, added 25 points, seven rebounds and seven assists Sunday night.
By continually clogging the paint, the Heat was able to force Kevin Durant into foul trouble, forcing him to sit for nine minutes.
Instead of playing tentatively late in the game, James seized the moment, scoring eight points in the final seven minutes.
His reverse layup with just over two minutes embodied the play of James in Game 3. He simply refused to settle for jump shots, instead just bulled his way to the basket.
For the game, James shot 8-of-10 from the paint.
Oklahoma City refused to go quietly.
Following a pair of free throws, defensive specialist Thabo Sefolosha employed a one-man full court press.
He poked the ball away from Wade, briefly jarring the ball loose, but Wade recovered. Sefolosha stripped him just seconds later at half court and then out raced Wade to the basket to cut the Heat lead down to three.
The steal from Sefolosha was one of nine turnovers from Miami in the fourth quarter.
Russell Westbrook converted a transition jump shot on the next play to trigger a timeout from the Heat.
Durant scored 25 points on 11-of-19 shooting, but managed just one shot during the final seconds.
Miami led by three when James Harden capped off his worst game of the playoffs with an inexplicable foul on James.
Harden finished with nine points on 2-of-10 shooting along with six rebounds and six assists. His foul on James with 16 seconds remaining and Oklahoma City down by three just provided some much needed breathing room for Miami.
The Heat to regained possession following a the free throw attempts from James on a miscommunication between Westbrook and Sefolosha on an in-bounds play.
Miami converted its free throws late to claim victory. For the game, it converted 31-of-35 foul shots.
Once Durant went to the bench after picking up his fourth foul midway through the third quarter, the Thunder seemed to take control of the game.
Miami opened the third quarter by converting 2-of-10 shot attempts, but rallied back by forcing the Thunder into costly mistakes.
Although Oklahoma City limited the Heat to 5-of-31 shooting from outside of the paint, it was Battier that did the most damage from distance.
Battier’s nine 3-pointers were a Finals record through two games. Even though he finished with nine points, the fourth highest on the team, he connected twice from downtown during a critical stretch in the second quarter.
Chris Bosh finished with 10 points and 11 rebounds and opened the scoring with a dunk in the first quarter and began Miami’s assault on the rim.
The Heat converted 10-of-12 shots from inside five feet in the first quarter.
Each Thunder starter recorded at least one block, but Miami’s effort propelled it to victory.
It was evident James wouldn’t let his team lose in Game 3.
Just two victories away from claiming his first title, James is playing the best basketball of his career, averaging 30.7 points, 9.7 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game in the post season.
Now he has a chance to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy without taking a plane trip back to Oklahoma City.